Air Marshal Gagan Bulathsinghala, who this week assumed duties as the Sri Lanka Air Force Commander, said there were no plans to expand the Air Force, but it would continue its role in maintaining national security. In an interview with the Sunday Times, the new commander said the Air Force had no plans to compete with [...]

Sunday Times 2

No compromise in national security: New SLAF chief


Air Marshal Gagan Bulathsinghala, who this week assumed duties as the Sri Lanka Air Force Commander, said there were no plans to expand the Air Force, but it would continue its role in maintaining national security. In an interview with the Sunday Times, the new commander said the Air Force had no plans to compete with the private aviation industry, though it had launched Helitours on the request of the Government.

Pix by Anuradha Bandara

After the end of the war, how do you see the role of the Air Force now?
In war or peace, the Air force plays a vital role in maintaining national security. Our main role is securing the skies and conducting the operations. We will continue to do that, though the intensity may not be the same.

What are your plans to phase off some of the aircraft used?
Right now we are operating the fleet that we got. Certain aircraft due to aging need to be phased off. We will maintain a balanced Air Force. We do not have any intention of expanding the Air Force. We will maintain the right size and also our capability.

Any plans of modernizing the Air Force?
We need certain replacements. That is being done. We have projected the requirement. We will maintain our level at that. We need to consider the finance side also. The country is still developing; we can’t disregard that.

What do you see as the requirement now, since we no longer need fighter  aircraft?
We have a large EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) to protect. We also have the flight information region. In the flight information region, we need to be the first to respond if there is any emergency. Also patrolling close to the shores is in our domain. We need to enhance in these areas. Right now we do not have the full capability.

Will the Air Force be playing a role in surveillance of fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters?
We do play a role, but the main responsibility is with the Navy. Since the Palk Strait is narrow, if and when required we do reconnaissance missions for the Navy.

The Air Force gained a wealth of experience in combating the  terrorists. Any plans to share this  experience with other countries?
We get invitations to deliver speeches at various seminars and forums. Sri Lanka is a role model case study for them. We project our experience. We do share them and particularly when our officers go overseas or at staff college training and at National Defence college. We share our experience at these institutions. We also need to train our young recruits. In the Army symposium too we are given an opportunity to explain our role. That is another forum.

As the new commander how do you plan to take this forward?
My predecessor tried to have an air power symposium. We are trying to go ahead with his plans. And in-house, we have seminars to educate the younger generation, with whom we share our experience.

How do you share this experience with foreign students?
Currently we have foreign air force officers in the Air wing of the Defence Services Command and Staff College. We offer opportunities to friendly foreign countries to come here and learn from us.

Since the conflict ended, how do you see the issue of persons leaving the  Air Force ?
While some have chosen to stay on and make this their career, some others have chosen to leave. We have to allow those who wish to leave to do so because ours is a pyramid-structure where only a few can reach the top. We have released some to work in the national carrier (SriLankan Airlines). Of course, we can’t release everyone. However, a fair number of pilots in Sri Lankan Airlines are Air Force trained pilots.

How about the recruitment drive?
We continue with our recruitment drive. That is an ongoing process. We are not expanding. We have to keep the feeder going on.

The Air Force has been involved in  the leisure industry. Do you hope to  expand in this area?
Our leisure services cater essentially to members of the Air Force. We have grown and need recreational facilities. We have such facilities as banquet halls and we allow Air Force staff to have their weddings in these halls for 30% of what would be spent at a Colombo hotel. It is a welfare measure. Howeve,r we can cater to the public with what is ‘left over.’

The Air Force operates  Helitours – do you hope to  expand in this area.
Helitours began actually to help the civil aviation industry. We don’t intend to stunt the growth of civilian operators. We want to help them. The Air Force, apart from SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka, is the one entity with so much expertise in the field. Civil aviation could not get a kick start following the conflict. On a government initiative we started

We will only continue it up to the point where we are no longer needed. We do not in any way intend to compete with civil aviation groups. Upto now we have done a good job. We comply with civil aviation regulations. There are concerns that we are going to eat into their businesses. We will continue only up to the point we are needed.

The Air Force also has been playing a role in UN Peace keeping missions.
Right now we have a deployment in Central Africa. We have three helicopters there with a contingent of about 110. In addition three aircraft have been sent to South Sudan. All this is under the UN mandate on peace keeping operations. I am happy to say that in Central Africa they are extremely happy with our operations and the conduct of our troops. That is a plus point for Sri Lanka. Frist time we deployed our personnel in the aviation field.

How do you hope to expand in this area?
We are in Africa for a one year operation. We will have to send the replacement for the next one. If there are any further requests we will have to consider all the aspects how we are going to sustain it without comprising our role in Sri Lanka.

Any other plans?
What we are looking at is to maintain our core competency – that’s on the national security aspect. That is our first priority. In this era, English and IT are important. We have a programme for it. We will continue to do that. Regarding future acquisitions we need to look at keeping with the Government policy. We do not need to expand.

He was pilot for four Presidents
Air Marshal Gagan Pulasthi Bulathsinghala born on September 12, 1961 joined the Sri Lanka Air Force as an Officer Cadet in 1981 and was commissioned Pilot Officer in the General Duties Pilot Branch on April 8, 1983.

He is a graduate of the Air Command & Staff College at Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama in the United States and the prestigious National Defence College in New Delhi. He holds post-graduate degrees of Master in Philosophy in Defence and Strategic Studies from the University of Madras in Chennai, and a Master of Science Degree in Defence Studies in Management from the Kothalawala Defence University. He is a fellow of Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies in Hawaii, the Near East South Asia Centre for Strategic Studies and National Defence University, Washington.

He was the founding Commanding Officer of the No. 6 Helicopter Squadron and is a VVIP rated pilot with more than 4,500 flying hours and has flown four heads of State of Sri Lanka during his tenure at the No. 4 Squadron. He has commanded the Sri Lanka Air Force Base in China Bay.

He has served in various staff appointments at Air Force Headquarters during his career.Air Marshal Bulathsinghala, a decorated helicopter pilot, was awarded the “Rana Wickrama Padakkama” and the “Rana Sura Padakkama”. He was also awarded the “Uttama Seva Padakkama” in addition to the campaign and operational medals.
He is married to Samanthi and is blessed with a son and a daughter.

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.